Here’s the most important thing to know about the M1 iPad Air that Apple introduced last week: it didn’t raise the price. It’s still priced the same at $599 for the base model (although you should upgrade to the 256GB model). So what, you might ask? Well, the iPad Air is now powered by the M1 system on a chip – the same processor in the MacBook Air, iMac and Mac mini.
It’s also the same processor found in the 2021 iPad Pro lineup. That’s a big deal because it means you can save around $150 on a similarly equipped iPad Air that will give you virtually the same experience as the 11-inch iPad Pro. I’ve written in the past that the iPad Pro is by far the best tablet on the market, without a doubt. Now the iPad Air has the same performance, making it easily the best value for money.
Apple Silicon is so far ahead of its competitors that the A14 Bionic in the previous iPad Air was already more powerful than any other mobile chip. The M1 is based on the same processing cores but with many more of them. Putting so much performance into the iPad Air is – in some ways – Apple just showing off. He didn’t need to. Apple did it because it can.
This brings us to an interesting point: the M1 iPad Air is one of the most confusing products Apple has ever introduced. That’s because it lives in a space so close to the iPad Pro. It can be hard, at first, to figure out what Apple’s strategy is for making the Air look so much like its flagship sibling. What does “Air” even mean on an iPad?
In addition to the M1, it also shares a similar overall design. It has the same Apple Pencil support and any case compatible with the iPad Pro M1 (including theMagic Keyboard), will also fit the iPad Air.
At the same time, it lacks several features that you can get on Apple’s flagship model, the iPad Pro. You don’t get ProMotion or FaceID. The Air also only has two stereo speakers, a single rear camera, and a slightly lower overall brightness. Of course, even with these missing features, I find it hard to imagine anyone buying an iPad Air would care.
The iPad Air is for people who want something better and more modern than the ninth-generation iPad, which still sports essentially the same design as when it was introduced. Compared to this model, the iPad Air is significantly faster.
It’s also for people who are looking for something to be their only device – maybe not for heavy work, but definitely for personal use. If you use a computer most of the time to browse the internet, answer emails, and send messages, iPad Air does it all. As Apple likes to point out, it does them “faster than the vast majority of laptops”.
This brings us to why I think Apple is showing off. It’s not just that the iPad Air is a legitimate option for these people, especially when paired with a keyboard. Apple already had a device that was capable of it: the iPad. The iPad Air is still more than they’ll ever need – in a good way – without paying the price of the iPad Pro.
It’s basically Apple saying “we’re so far ahead of the competition that we can make this cheaper version of the best tablet ever. We’re going to take a few things out that you don’t care about anyway and give you all the performance you could want.” Apple makes it so good, simply because it can.
This is actually a powerful strategy in itself. Many of Apple’s latest products seem to be trying to answer the question “what do people really want?” That’s not always how the company approached product design, or at least that’s not how it appeared from the outside.
Now, however, Apple Silicon is making this possible as the company is even better able to control every aspect of its hardware. The result is that it designs products like the iPad Air, which are the best version of what it’s supposed to do. In fact, for most people, the iPad Air is the best tablet any company has ever made. It’s so good, in fact, that at this point it’s just for show.